I am here today to welcome you to the 2019 Labor Enabled Conference. I hope you enjoy your time at what I am sure will be a jam-packed weekend of robust discussion, and friendship making. These conferences are about learning from each other, building friendships and contributing to policy, all of which are vital functions of the mighty Labour movement.
I want to congratulate all the work that has been done by Labor Enabled; its members and supporters.
In Queensland, it was the first Labor association devoted to advocacy for people with disability, impairment, mental illness and their carers. It’s hard to imagine a Labor Party, that is true to its word, without this association.
Labor Enabled embodies the fundamental values of the Labor Party; inclusiveness, empowerment, accessibility and representation. Labor Enabled makes our movement better and stronger, and it is events like these that help provide a more complete picture of what it means to live in this nation, and the challenges that we need to address when making policy.
Brad Sparrow, a friend of mine and a founder of Labor Enabled, has said previously “There’s nothing worse than when you turn up to something and listen to someone talk about disability policy and they just haven’t lived it.”
Labor Enabled was borne from this frustration. As a patron of the association, I am proud to see how far it’s come.
Today’s conference is important because it ventilates the lived experiences of people with a disability, in a structured setting, to be used by Labor policy makers.
In this sense, you are all policy makers here today.
This years’ conference theme, enabling journeys, is about finding solutions to address barriers to employment for people with disability.
In Australia, people with disability are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disability.
We have one of the lowest employment participation rates for people with disability compared to other OECD countries, at 39.8% for people with disability compared to 79.4% for people without disability.
Of those who do work (part-time), almost one-third (32.4%) want to work more hours. That’s compared to just over one quarter of people without disability (27.1%).
Women with disability are less likely to be employment, and have lower incomes from employment, and young people with disability often do not enter the labour force at all over the first seven years after school.
Young people with disability are therefore much more likely to experience long term unemployment.
And while there has been no improvement in labour participation for people with a disability over the last 20 years, we have a government that stands by their slogan, if you have a go, you get a go.
Well that is simply not the case. For many people with disability, if you have a go, you get a no from this government.
Take the NDIS for instance; there is often no provision for support for employment in the packages, because this government continues to silo disability policy, deeming employment to be another portfolio, another issue.
Taking the experience of people with disability and using a narrow lens in policy development, does not provide solutions to the barriers that people face in accessing employment.
The question is, what is the Morrison Government’s plan to improve employment outcomes for people with disability?
While we have seen some reforms in this area, the narrow focus on Disability Employment Services, fails to address or even consider the fundamental causes of unemployment; structural, cyclical, and frictional.
National disability organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about DES reforms, due to what they describe as missed opportunities to create employment support systems that actually work.
They assert that more than $800 million is being spent each year on a system that isn’t working.
A little more than 1 in 10 people entering the DES program get a job, and stay in that job, for at least 12 months.
There are concerns that the views of people with disability and employers have been overlooked, and that the recent reforms do not deliver on the promise of informed choice for people with disability, seeking employment.
Other federal issues that need to be addressed are the Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) programs that have faced legal challenges, and require review of policies governing wage arrangements.
We cannot rely on the Morrison Government to solve these challenges alone. We need your assistance today, as attendees of the Labor Enabled conference, to share your experiences, your views, and ideas, so that Labor is in the best position to advocate for changes from opposition, but to ultimately, implement them in a future government.